Will Travel for Words: The Writer’s Canvas by Karen A. Chase
As a CBS Sunday Morning story from a few years ago stated, “The surprise isn’t that there are writers who paint, it’s how many writers paint.”
William Blake. e.e. cummings. Aldous Huxley. Sylvia Plath. Kurt Vonegut. The list goes on and on. In the last week, I discovered a couple authors in my writing group paint between work and writing. This last year, I too picked up the brush.
Personally, my desire to take lessons and paint came for a variety of reasons:
- Time with friends instead of writing alone.
- To stand at an easel instead of sitting behind a computer.
- To work visually instead of with words.
- To empty my head of my stories.
After a few months of classroom work, my teacher suggested I tag along on a Plein Air day. I painted one little canvas (or as much of it as I could) outside in one day. I had such a grand time, I added to my list of reasons to paint:
- To feel the sun.
- To stand among the trees.
Every writer who has painted has found their own reasons. The overarching drive among authors, however, could be summed up by Bob Ross (the famous PBS painter with the big hair). “All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.”
Authors are never short on visions. We cart around scenes and complex characters. We construct relationships and build worlds. We create impressions of the world we see. That’s precisely what painting does, too.
But writer beware of two things. First, the hours when you paint fly swiftly by like startled birds. I painted this weekend from just before noon until 3:00, and it felt like barely an hour.
Also, as indicated by the characters in Chris Moore’s book Sacré Bleu, A Comedy d’Art (incidentally one of the funnies books I’ve read in years), painting isn’t the same as writing.
“’Paint only what you see,’ his hero Millet had admonished.
‘Imagination is a burden to a painter,’ Auguste Renoir had told him. ‘Painters are craftsmen, not storytellers. Paint what you see.’
Ah, but what they hadn’t said, hadn’t warned him about, was how much you could see.”
Upon further inspection though, for a writer, that’s good advice too. Write only what you see. (The sky is the limit there, my friends.)
Am I a terrific painter? Not really. I’m learning. But hopefully my time at the canvas, through the years, will allow me to see much, much more. Each time I venture out with my brush in hand, I’m not just traveling to get away from the words, but in search of.
To see more paintings by famous authors, check out the blog from Melville House, “When Great Authors Pick up the Brush.”
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebookor
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